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Great Finger Lakes Bicycle Tour?

Monday, March 30th, 2009

I am contemplating registering for the 2009 Great Finger Lakes Bicycle Tour. I don’t do a lot of organized rides, but this one looks great. A short ride Friday evening, and lots of options for Saturday and Sunday ranging from 21 to 91 miles, including some new mixed-terrain options. I think these use rail-trails, so the terrain should be relatively tame during those portions. The rest of the ride looks to be very hilly, but I have not found any routes or elevation profiles online. The ride also features several catered meals, and camping is provided. Home base is the very beautiful Watkins Glen State Park, which is home to an impressive 19 waterfalls. A far cry from a self-supported tour, but it sounds fantastic to me.

Has anyone ridden this ride? Is anyone interested in riding it?

Here are some photos I found from last year.

Cyclists

Waterfall

This one is from October

Part III: Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest

Friday, September 5th, 2008

On Sunday, I rode from Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest. Once again, Sarah met me there by car. Previously, we had discussed camping again at one of the state forests that night, but we decided against it, due to the heat and the fact that we wanted to have a restful day on Monday. I had a route planned (view it on Bikely) and expected it to be about 25 miles. I told Sarah we should probably allow two hours for me to make it there, as I expected to take my time.

Jackson-Washington State Forest to Clark State Forest
Annotated route overview

I got a later start than I planned. This is typical for me. Getting up, having breakfast, and breaking down the tent and everything took a lot longer than I expected. The main downside to this was that it was already heating up by the time I hit the road.

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Riding

Despite the heat, I was in good spirits. It felt good to be back on the bike, and not being in a hurry makes the heat more tolerable.

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Riding through Jackson-Washington State Forest

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A pond on the way out

Jackson County is a very interesting place to ride. Most the land is flat, but huge hills (“knobs”) surround you. Sometimes there will be cornfields on both sides of you, and it just feels like you’re riding down the middle of a cornfield. Sometimes there are soybeans planted instead, which give you better views of the hills.

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Soy fields and hills

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A church

The route I planned was mostly on back roads. I rode a bit on State Road 39, and it was quiet, but you never know with the state highways. Some are nearly vacant and have relatively low speed limits. Some are very busy and have fast traffic. There’s generally no way of knowing which kind of road any given state highway will be until you get there. I stuck with my planned ride on back roads.

It wasn’t long before I hit gravel. Quite suddenly, the pavement ended and I was riding on gravel. It was fairly tightly-packed gravel, and I had a tailwind. I rode around 20 mph on gravel for some time — I was flying, and it felt great.

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Where the pavement ends

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My bicycle by some corn.

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Cornfields and hills

I got a little confused about the route. I thought I went the right way, but soon started seeing things again that I had seen earlier in the ride. I was going in circles. Fortunately, I had brought my Gazetteer and a compass with me. I highly recommend carrying both, if you can. I was able to figure out, fairly easily, where I messed up and where I needed to go. I otherwise would’ve had to make a series of guesses to get myself out of this mess. And I went a good 30 minutes without seeing any cars, so asking for directions wouldn’t have worked too well.

Unfortunately, I had gone several miles out of the way. It took me a while to get back on track. Fortunately, I was really enjoying the scenery and it didn’t bother me too much. I knew that given this mistake, I’d be late to meet Sarah, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at this stage.

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Dilapidated barn

I got back on track and had some more gravel riding to do. It wasn’t as smooth this time around, but it was still fun. This road was a bit curvier, and the turns kept me on my toes. It would have been easy to have a wheel wash out, on a bicycle less suited to gravel.

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Hay bales

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More gravel

I spent quite a while on Waskum Bridge Road. I was hoping this meant I’d be hitting a bridge soon. I went over one small one but I couldn’t imagine they’d name the road after such a small bridge. Sure enough, I soon reached a bigger bridge, with one stream to the west, which branched into two on the east side of the bridge. I looked around for turtles or other wildlife but didn’t see any. I did, however, see a dirt road running alongside the stream. This was awesome, because I’ve been wanting to try riding my new bike on a dirt road, but have had a hard time finding any.

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The stream splits

I didn’t ride on the dirt road for very long, but the bike handled quite well while I did. I simply didn’t want to waste too much time, since I was already behind schedule. The tires had good traction, even in the loose dirt. It had been a long time since the last rain and things were quite dusty.

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Dirt road

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My tire treads in the dust

After a while I ended up back on paved roads, and spent some time on Pumpkin Center Road, a fun, curvy country road. I was hoping I’d get to see a bunch of pumpkins or something, but no such luck. I did see yet another interesting hilltop cemetery.

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Pumpkin Center Road

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Gater Cemetery

It was around this time that the rolling hills started. No single hill was all that big, but I rode over many hills, one right after the other. It was really getting hot at this point, so I didn’t tackle the hills with as much fervor as I normally would. I was content to spin over gradually. The Trucker’s lower gearing really came into play here and while I was moving slowly, I was able to take on the hills without exhausting myself too much.

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Rolling hills on Pumpkin Center Road

I ended up on State Road 39 for a little while, and there was pretty much no traffic. I could have ridden that road most of the way down and it would’ve been more direct and an easier route to follow. However, I really enjoyed the back roads. I soon ended up on Bloomington Trail Road, which had more rolling hills, some of them much bigger. I got turned around a couple of times but soon found my way. The Gazetteer came in handy once again. I also got to ride through the Leota covered bridge, which was pretty cool.

Several times I had tried to talk to Sarah by phone to let her know I was running late, but doing fine. Eventually I managed to communicate that to her, despite the fact that our phones both had poor reception and most of the time, we were only able to exchange greetings before our signals were dropped.

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Bloomington Trail Road, with big hills in the distance

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A knob

The hills continued getting bigger. Still nothing too hard, but again, cumulatively I was feeling it. But I was almost there. Sarah had told me she and Rob were waiting by a church. When I was in the right area and saw a church, I figured I must have found them.

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Arriving at the church

When I pulled into the parking lot, they were waiting for me.

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What a greeting!

The ride ended up being longer than I expected by about 10 miles — about 35 miles total. My bicycle was a mess from all the dirt and gravel roads. And so was I. I had a great ride, but I was glad to be done. The heat was getting to me.

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Dirty bike

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Me

We hung out in the parking lot a little bit. A guy went by repeatedly on a tractor, hauling hay bales one at a time. Sarah said he’d been at it for quite some time. He waved every time he went by.

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Hauling hay bales

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Brooks saddle, Keven’s Bag, and my Indiana Gazetteer

We put my bike on the bike rack and drove into town to get some lunch. We found a local restaurant where my beef Manhattan looked suspiciously like Sarah’s turkey, except for the color of the gravy. It was one of those small diner-type places where everything is bland and inoffensive. It’s always nice to know where the local mediocre generic American food restaurant is. On our way out we saw the following sign.

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FREE FLOYD!

We had planned to hike in Clark State Forest, but it was really hot and we were exhausted. We opted just to drive through. We’ll return there someday soon, I’m sure. The drive through the forest took us to the top of one of the knobs, and it was a steep, twisty climb. I simply must attempt it by bicycle sometime. The car was struggling with it a bit at times. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to believe this is the midwest with views like this. The elevation at this point was over 1,000 feet.

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View from the top


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Another view

It was a beautiful trip. I wished it hadn’t been soon hot as I would’ve loved to explore the area some more. But we were exhausted already, and drove home. We took the scenic route and I showed Sarah some of the things I saw on my way to Jackson-Washington State Forest.

All in all, I’d say the trip was a success. We need to streamline things in the future, but this worked fairly well. I can’t wait to go camping together again. And the touring bug has bit hard, and I’m itching to do an unsupported trip sometime soon.

Part I: Bloomington to Jackson-Washington State Forest

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

The first leg of our trip had me riding from Bloomington to Jackson-Washington State Forest (actually, we met in the nearest town, Brownstown, and then I rode the last few miles to the State Forest). I had planned the route on Bikely. We chose a different route for Sarah to take. View the route here, or look at the annotated map below. I wrote in a few points of interest, just for fun. Saturday I rode about 51 miles, with over 1700 feet of climbing.

Bloomington to Jackson-Washington State Forest
Overview of the route, with points of interest noted

I had ridden most of this route before, when I rode the Nashville 90 last year, but that was a long time ago, and some of this was new. In fact, I realized shortly before I left that the route I took included a jaunt down Dutch Ridge Road, which connects to 446 in two places. Even though I’ve ridden on that part of 446 many times, I had never even noticed this road before, so I was looking forward to seeing what it was like.

I started riding around 10:00 am. That’s early, for me. Fortunately it was early enough that I could beat most of the heat. Don’t get me wrong, it got hot. But I was done riding before the hottest part of the day. The ride started with an uneventful trip down 446. I took Knightridge to avoid 446 as much as possible. I took some video of the downhill to the causeway, riding across, and partway up the other side, but it didn’t turn out well. The camera was bouncing around too much. It’s probably not worth posting. Suffice it to say, I hit over 40 mph going down that hill, and it felt great.

One advantage to doing things this way is that Sarah got to sleep in a while longer than I did. I’m willing to get up early to ride (sometimes), but there’s no reason she should have to. Also, since she was bringing the car, I didn’t have to load a bunch of stuff on the bike.

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Field by 446

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Someone hiking on the shoulder of 446 (seen from Knightridge Road)

Traffic was much lighter than I expected, especially given that it was a holiday weekend. It was a pleasant surprise. I rode on 446 for a while, the riding was easy and a little dull, but it felt great to be on the bike.

Eventually, I came to Dutch Ridge Road. Actually, I rode past it and had to turn around. I almost just stayed on 446, but I was curious about this road. I was glad I turned around to check it out.

The road starts out paved. It’s a bit rough, and quite narrow. As you’d expect, it follows a ridgetop, and while it’s heavily wooded, you can see the deep ravine at least a little bit. I passed some homes, but mostly it was just woods. The pavement ended and the road narrowed. It switched back and forth, paved and gravel sections.

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Gravel section of Dutch Ridge Road

I saw a gate with a sign and stopped to explore.

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Chrisley Hillenburg Cemetery sign. The sign in the background reads, “Foot Traffic Welcome. Closed to all public motor vehicle use.”

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My bicycle by the gate. Notice: no pink water bottle!

I probably could have lifted my bike over the gate and ridden back there, but I decided to hike back to the cemetery.

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Trail back to the cemetery

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Cemetery gates

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KINSER Gerline … Stillborn 1929

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A row of small white crosses

Sometime during all of this, I think I got a fingerprint on the lens. The result is that a lot of the shots look hazy. But that’s appropriate, as it’s more how I saw the scenes, in a lot of cases. It gets old in some of the later shots, but what can you do?

I didn’t linger long. I wanted to get moving again pretty quickly. I tried to time things so if anyone had to wait in Brownstown, it’d be me, not Sarah. To that end, I didn’t want to waste too much time.

The road became even narrower, and was effectively one lane for a while. I followed it through various twists and turns, over mostly flat terrain with a few mild ups and downs. I passed a few stands of pine trees along the way. It was a little hazy and the sun cut through the trees in impressive ways. What a beautiful little road! I saw a sign for a Hillenburg Stephenson cemetery, but this time, I didn’t stop.

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A stand of pines, a twisty, narrow road, deciduous trees, all glow in the sunlight

I spent a few miles on this road and as I neared the end, went into a fantastic flowing descent down from the ridgetop. I picked up a lot of speed and really railed the turns. The Long Haul Trucker loves to descend. The only problem I had was that my front fender started rattling a lot while I was on this road. I looked and discovered that a nut was coming loose.

Dutch Ridge Road ended and spit me back out onto 446. I stopped to admire the scenery and call Sarah to ask her to bring a couple of extra things to the campsite so I could fix the fender that night.

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Trees, fields, a pond, and a creek.

Now I had a fairly long climb on road cut through the limestone, with stone cliffs on both sides.

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The road cuts through limestone

Not long after that, it was time to turn off 446 and onto 58. It was getting pretty hot and I stopped for a snack. I contemplated going into Heltonville, a nearby town, but I had plenty of food and water and knew I could get more in Kurtz, so I pressed on.

58 is a scenic and narrow but low-traffic road through … well, pretty much the middle of nowhere. It does go through a few small unincorporated towns and near some Hoosier National Forest access points, but that’s about it.

There was nearly no traffic on 58. Normally I wouldn’t be surprised, but I really expected a little traffic on Labor Day weekend. I did see quite a few motorcycles, but I literally went 20-30 minutes without seeing any other vehicles a few times.

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Donkeys

I had a bit of climbing to do, and then it was very flat for a while. This is when I really noticed the easterly¬† winds. They weren’t too strong, but on this flat high ground, I had to pay a little more attention to the wind.

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Covered bridge on private property

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Some climbing

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Camouflage truck

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Suddenly reaching flat ground

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Enjoying the ride

Truth be told, I enjoyed having a few flat miles. I passed through Zelma, crossed into Jackson County, and rode through Norman.

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A truck attempts to hide in Zelma

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Open air barn?

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Enter Jackson County / Leave Lawrence County

Once I reached Norman, I saw a strange phenomenon … again. When I rode the Nashville 90 last year, I noticed that the flag at the Norman Post Office was blowing in the opposite direction from the one at the church across the street. This time, the same was true. I wonder what it is about that particular spot that causes this to happen.

Norman, IN flags
Flags flying in opposite directions

The terrain started getting hillier again. The road mostly went between hills. There were some huge hills on my right that I marveled at. At the top of one hill, there had been a car accident. Everyone seemed to be OK, from what I could tell, and there were plenty of people on the scene helping. I rode on.

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For scale, the speck on the road at the base of the big hill is a guy on a motorcycle

I took a break at the Kurtz Cemetery, another familiar place from the Nashville 90. There’s a pretty steep road climb, and then a gravel drive on the left side that’s even steeper, and then you’re in a cemetery on top of a hill, with a good view of the surrounding hills.

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Hill up to the cemetery

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My bicycle at the cemetery

It’s probably beginning to sound like I’m cemetery-obsessed. I’m not, really, although they do interest me. They also tend to make a good place to rest; no one bothers you in a cemetery. Somewhere around this area, I enjoyed a long, gently-curving ride down a sizable hill.

Soon I reached Kurtz and stopped at the 58 Cafe to get some water and gatorade. It’s mostly a cafe but they sell a few convenience store-type items, as well. The woman filled my water bottles for free. I bought same Gatorade and left a nice tip. The people were very nice to me, I’ll have to stop there for a meal sometime. It’s hit or miss stopping into these tiny stores as a cyclist: some people are great and others look at you like you’re insane (a point I can’t argue, but still …)

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58 Cafe sign

After a few more miles, I reached 135. When I did the Nashville 90, I rode north from this point. This time, I needed to go south. I had never ridden this portion of 135 before, but it was very quiet. The speed limits were high but once again I saw very little traffic. I was simply amazed more people weren’t out taking in this beautiful country on a holiday weekend.

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An interesting-looking “Antiques” store. I wonder if they have real antiques, or if that’s a code word for “junk.”

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This shot typifies the region: corn, hills, and trees

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Goats

I wasn’t on 135 terribly long. I could have stayed on it most of the way to Brownstown, probably, but I had planned a route on some back roads. Things remained hilly for a while but then got flatter.

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Farm

I took a meandering route on some flat back roads. I looked ahead and saw a car kicking up dust in the distance. The road was obviously gravel up ahead. On my road bike, I’d consider taking a different route. On the Trucker, gravel just means extra fun!

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Long, straight, flat gravel road

One thing I was aware of but sometimes forget is how interesting the land is in this part of the state. It’s mostly flat, with huge hills jutting up in various places. I could see some such huge hills in the distance and found myself approaching them as I continued riding.

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Soybean fields, with hills in the distance

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Adjacent to the green field above was this brown one

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Wildflowers

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The Trucker by a field

I was almost to Brownstown at this point. I crossed this fork of the White River on the Ewing bridge, and saw some big turtles sunning themselves on logs in the water.

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Reaching the river

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Turtles catching some sun

I passed a small industrial zone in Ewing, which is adjacent to Brownstown, then headed over to Brownstown and waited for Sarah by a restaurant. Her cell phone didn’t get reception in Brownstown so she called me from CVS and I told her where I was.

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Industrial zone

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Ewing, Indiana

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Downtown Brownstown

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A tank on the town square

We ate at Brock’s Family Restauraunt in downtown Brownstown. We both ordered “REAL Cheeseburgers” (they also had simply “Cheeseburgers” on the menu. Apparently the difference, aside from 35 cents, is that the “real” cheeseburgers are fresh meat, never frozen. The food was decent, but nothing spectacular. From here it was only a few miles to the state forest and the campground. I rode the rest of the way, and Sarah met me there.

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State Road 250 toward the state forest

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Jackson-Washington State Forest

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This lake, right by the campground, has been drained. It’s been this way for some time; good thing we’re not into fishing

We weren’t 100% sure campsites would be available. I tried to make some reservations at state parks and all of the ones I checked were full. However, the state forests are always quieter than the state parks. We had plenty of campsites to choose from. We found a good site and set up camp. I ran the registration back to the forest office by bicycle.

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The tent and the Long Haul Trucker

It was a pretty hot day, so we sat in the shade for a while and had a beer. After that, we went for a hike. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

It felt really good to use the bike to get somewhere. I’m not used to riding somewhere and then staying there, most of my rides start and end at one point, usually our apartment. And a 50-mile loop only takes you half as far as a 50-mile one-way trip.

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